The most prominent feature of any First Person Shooter (FPS) is its choice of weapons. More than player movement, health systems, or level design, the weapons of an FPS stand front and center as a representation of the game in general. So it’s important to make guns fun, and to accomplish this, game developers need to vary weapon choices.
“Goldeneye” vs. “Perfect Dark”
“Goldeneye” and “Perfect Dark” for Nintendo 64 may not be the most balanced FPSs ever designed, but they stand as two giants of the genre. “Goldeneye” brought console FPSs to the gaming masses, and “Perfect Dark” refined the formula established by its predecessor. More than that, a huge transformation occurred between these two games. While “Goldeneye” took place in the present day, “Perfect Dark” placed its game in the future. This distinction may sound more or less cosmetic, but it had a profound affect on the weapons found in these two games.
The guns in this game existed as tools to dispense bullets and not much else. Some choice existed in the form of explosives, such as the rocket launcher and landmines, but for the most part the variety in weapons begins and ends with how powerful the bullets are and how fast they fire. There were several machine guns and pistols to crawl through, but all of them functioned in nearly the same way, with no real changes in how the player uses them.
This game fills in gaps left by “Goldeneye.” Every gun has a second function, and nearly every second function is unique. The machine gun converts into a grenade launcher, a gun that hones in on its target, a gun that transforms into a mounted turret, and even a gun with a scope that can peer through solid walls. Even to this day the pure, fun weapon diversity of “Perfect Dark” remains unmatched.
The secret? “Perfect Dark” benefits from its futuristic setting. “Goldeneye” is based heavily in reality with the spy from “James Bond” as the central character. Even if the scenarios of the game are extraordinary, they’re still steeped in the rules of the real world. “Perfect Dark,” on the other hand, takes place a number of years in the future where anything too unusual can be justified under the umbrella of sci-fi technology. This new futuristic setting is basically a blank check allowing for any sort of weapon the designers can dream up. Clearly, a game’s theme can be a powerful ally, or hugely restrictive.
Continuing on with the Sci-Fi theme, we arrive at the present generation with the “Halo” games. Now, I make no claims about which contemporary FPSs are best. My only point here is that a creative setting allows for a wider variety of weapons, and you can see that proven once again with the “Halo” series.
First, health is divided into two parts, shields and the standard health bar. This creates the potential for dynamic functions in weapons, with some weapons being based for depleting shields, the others focusing on physical damage. This creates lots of options when to use certain weapons, and strategy on how it works best to combine them. And “Halo” takes place in a sci-fi setting, giving another element of unique options.
The weapons in the game introduce bizarre concepts which are genuinely fun, and simply could not work in a modern setting. The Needler is an interesting weapon which shoots out crystal-like projectiles that hone in on the target but have a delayed moment of impact. The key to getting a kill with this weapon is to unload the full clip onto an enemy before they take notice of you. If you catch them by surprise, the entire clip should be en route before they even get hit by the first crystal bullet. The Needler truly is an odd gun, with a pattern of fire totally unique to the Halo series.
Even more fun is the Sparten Laser, a one-shot-kill weapon with an explosive impact similar to a rocket launcher. What’s interesting about this gun though is that while it functions like a Rocket Launcher, it inverts the process of firing off a rocket. Where normally the firing is instantaneous, but the time it take to reach the target is measured in several seconds, the Spartan Laser takes several seconds to charge up, but then instantly strikes down the targeted enemy. This is a fantastic reversal of standard gameplay, and it makes for a really fun weapon.
Making Weapons Fun
A sci-fi setting isn’t the only way to make novel or interesting weapons. Developers can also work backwards and invoke classic restrictions on classic weapons to produce gameplay that plays out differently than a standard run-and-gun affair. An old fashioned bolt action single-shot rifle with a slow reloading process can ratchet up tension as an enemy approaches and force you to struggle making your only available shot land straight on target. A twist on weapons can change a typical FPS into a novel experience of learning the individual idiosyncrasies of weapons and then mastering them. The joy of beating your opponent is one thing, but the pleasure that comes from humiliating them with a truly bizarre weapon is something else entirely.
It is pretty fun to see the evolution of these awesome games, especially when it comes to the complexity of the weapons. At Cabletv.com we have been known to skate off a bit and get an epic came of Call of Duty in. If you want to talk game hit me up on Twitter. @Cabletvcom